Criminals around the president: How Zim revolution was hijacked (Part III)

Jonathan Chando:Lawyer

THE past few weeks have witnessed the first two instalments of this series, which dwelt on the substantive unconstitutional power take-over of both government and the party, Zanu PF by the current regime.

This, as it may, was the most significant, being the culmination of a well-orchestrated and executed process of revolutionary aberration. This operation was named “Operation Restore Legacy”. Then, the nation was told that it was meant to arrest the criminals around then president Robert Mugabe, whose wife was accused of becoming the de facto president, directing government business through rallies, using state resources.

There is no doubt that the then first lady, Grace Mugabe had dipped her hands in the affairs of government and resultantly stepped on the toes of certain sections of both Zanu PF and government, including the military, as well as infuriating many among the citizenry, who viewed her as a usurper of the presidency.

Her outspokenness and candid talk rattled the nerves of many, who believed they were entitled to the reins of governance by virtue of their liberation credentials. But what people may not have realised at the time was that, while she may have overstepped her authority, as first lady, Grace had been privy to information, on the impending coup and the uncouth machinations that had been happening, from the time of the liberation struggle through post-Independence, which were going to change the trajectory of Zimbabwe’s political, economic and social framework, if the coup succeeded.

While the liberation struggle was prosecuted by gallant sons and daughters of Zimbabwe, with the support of the black masses, there were machinations and underhand operations to undermine the struggle. In every revolution, the enemy always tends to infiltrate the struggle with the goal to completely destroy it, or influence its outcome. And Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle was not immune to such infiltrations. Infiltrations come in many forms. Some people are recruited to infiltrate and cause divisions and splits, while some are recruited to spy on the enemy and pass intelligence to their handlers. Others are sent to stay within the enemy camp and use their influence and proximity to those in leadership and climb up the hierarchical ladder so as to influence the direction of the revolution, long-term with a view to hijack or neutralise it.

Infiltrations can also be done through the deployment of agents of the enemy, who act as revolutionaries, create a false narrative which portrays them as the heroes of the liberation struggle and, resultantly, win the trust and confidence of unsuspecting genuine revolutionaries. Zimbabwe has witnessed the prevalence of fake revolutionary exploits of some of the liberation heroes, through such portrayals.

People like Morrison Nyati — who joined the liberation struggle, became a senior commander and brought the Rhodesians to massacre recruits and combatants at Nyadzonia — were part of Rhodesia’s infiltration programme. The assassination of Herbert Chitepo in a car bomb and many others, is also evidence of infiltration within Zanu. The Ian Smith regime had intelligence on most, if not all Zanu leaders and commanders, their locations, movements and operational arrangements and such information was obtained from operatives and leaders within the liberation movement who were on enemy payroll.

After the November 2017 coup, which has been the subject of this series in the last weeks, internet websites, social media platforms and state tabloids, were inundated with recitals, and the symbolisation of revolutionary exploits and heroism of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the incumbent President of Zimbabwe, as the mastermind and leader of the Crocodile Gang, which is credited to have been the trigger of the Second Chimurenga. This narrative is meant to give the impression of a gallant son of the soil, who heroically dedicated his lifetime to liberating the people, yet the truth about the Crocodile Gang is well-documented and he wasn’t part of it.

In this edition, the series will chronicle the history of the original Crocodile Gang, whose exploits are well recorded in books, journals, academic theses, first-hand accounts of the actual members of the Crocodile Gang, as well as the Rhodesian government and court records. In the succeeding edition, the series will then interrogate the claim that Mnangagwa was the co-founder, leader as well as a member of the Crocodile Gang. The aim of pursuing this line of substantiation is to examine and reveal the furtive infiltration of Zanla by the Rhodesian and other foreign intelligence organisations, which may have effectively and successfully undermined the liberation struggle.

The original Crocodile Gang
In 1964, William Ndangana, assembled a group of four youths, namely Victor Mlambo, Amos Kademaunga, James Dhlamini and Master Tresha Mazwani, which later became known as the Crocodile Gang. They were assembled under the instructions of Ndabaningi Sithole, then president of Zanu. They were assigned to conduct acts of sabotage, meant to distract the Smith regime.

At the time of their recruitment, Ndangana was deputy secretary of Zanu’s Youth League in Lusaka. James Dhlamini was employed at the Luxury Tearoom in Kitwe.

Victor Mlambo worked in the Zambian mines and was at the same time a member of the Kabushi Branch of Zanu in Ndola, while Amos Kademaunga and Master Mazwani were general labourers and also Youth League members of the Masala Branch in Ndola.

The group left Kitwe in Zambia at the end of May 1964 and arrived in Highfield, Salisbury (now Harare), where they were briefed on their mission at Sithole’s house. Records indicate that present was the party’s secretary-general, Robert Mugabe, and secretary for defence Noel Mukono. Their mission was to operate in the Melsetter area of Manicaland, which was considered strategic for various reasons, one being that it was mountainous and the heavily wooded terrain of the area was ideal for hit-and-run operations.

On arrival in Mutare on June 30, 1964, the gang was welcomed by Joseph Shasha who had been assigned as one of the links to assist the gang. They were escorted to Nyanyadzi by Shasha, who linked them with local contacts. They were booked at one Eating House on arrival and later moved to a cave, which had been scouted for them by one Obed Mutezo. The cave was to be their base for the period of their operation.

Their first operation was conducted in the evening of July 1, 1964, which day the party had declared the “National Day of Action”. They would attack Nyanyadzi Police Camp, which was located on the banks of the Nyanyadzi River near the township and was notorious for the detention and interrogation of suspected African nationalists.

The gang prepared petrol bombs, while Ndangana wrote some confrontation notes, which would be left at every operation scene to announce the presence of the group in the area. During the day before the operation, Ndangana conducted a surveillance tour with a local elder, Solomon Gwitira, who knew the area.

During the attack on the camp that night, Kademaunga became timid and broke line with others. He was spotted by an African constable on patrol when he rose and started running. Ndangana threw the bomb at the constable, which unfortunately missed. Ndangana left one of the confrontation notes they had written, while they retreated. Back at their base, Kademaunga was reprimanded and warned for disrupting their mission.

The gang’s second operation was conducted at Chikwizi River Bridge. It was, however, unsuccessful as they attacked an African man, Lucas Siyomo, who was travelling from Kariba with his family. The gang realised their mistake that the target position was frequented by Africans instead of white settlers. They let Siyomo go and told him not to report to the police.

Siyomo, however, reported to Nyanyadzi Police Station, which dispatched a police vehicle to the bridge. On sight of the police vehicle, the gang removed the boulders they had mounted on the road and the car passed. The police vehicle turned around to return and the gang had rolled back boulders onto the road again.

Police fired a search light into the air and Kademaunga, as usual, sprung from his hiding position and ran for his life. This was the last time the others saw Kademaunga. The gang retreated, leaving confrontation letters at the bridge.

Because of the Chikwizi Bridge attack, reinforcements were brought into the district by the Rhodesian establishment, making it difficult for the gang to remain in contact with the local guides.

On July 3, the gang conducted surveillance, scouting for possible targets and decided on a road a few kilometres from the Skyline junction in Biriwiri, which was used by whites who were coming from shopping or other business in (Umtali) Mutare. They conducted their third operation on July 4, 1964, by setting up a fictitious road block, where they rolled boulders onto the road. A VW kombi coming from Mutare approached the makeshift roadblock and stopped a distance away from the boulders.

A white Afrikaner, Pieter Johannes Andries Oberholtzer, who was driving in the company of his wife and daughter, disembarked from the kombi and walked towards the boulders, shouting and asking why the “kaffirs” had erected the roadblock. The gang leaped into action and threw stones at the vehicle, damaging the windscreen. Olberholzer retreated to his car and drew a pistol. Ndangana advanced and stabbed Olberholzer in the neck, in front of his wife and daughter.

Olberholzer’s wife disembarked from the car and assisted her husband back into the car and Olberholzer drove the car through the boulders, but lost control and overturned. The gang followed to finish off Olberholzer, who tried to fight back. Ndangana overpowered Olberholzer and killed him, but spared the wife and daughter.

The gang tried to burn Olberholzer’s body to no avail and they disappeared from the scene. Olberholzer’s wife and daughter were rescued by another white family and reported the incident to Chipinge police. News of the incident was in newspapers nationwide and reinforcements were sent to the area, making it difficult for, and forcing the gang to withdraw, as they could no longer get food supplies or support from locals, who were afraid.

The gang disbanded into two mid-July, with Mlambo and Dhlamini taking to the Mozambique border, whilst Ndangana and Mazwani went to Harare and were received by Sithole’s wife, who funded their return to Zambia.

However, Mlambo and Dlamini were arrested on July 22 and were tried in the High Court of Rhodesia and convicted on December 14, 1964, under the Law and Order Maintenance Act for “contravening paragraph (a) of subsection (i) of section 37 of the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act (Chapter 39) alternatively, murder of Petrus Jonannes Andries Oberholtzer” and were sentenced to death under the mandatory “hanging clause” of the act, (File 6.4.9F No. 10665 (Regina vs. James Dhlamini and Victor Mlambo, High Court, Salisbury, 12.12.64)).

Kademaunga, who had abandoned the group after the Chikwizi Bridge attack, had been arrested on July 5, 1964. He was tried and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with hard labour for erecting illegal roadblocks and petrol bombing offices and he was released in 1980.

Mazwani was later arrested by the Rhodesian security forces. He was tried for “terrorism”, but because he was under age, he was saved from the gallows and was imprisoned for 20 years.

According to Ndangana, Mazwani was released at Independence, but was suffering from mental illness. Mazwani is the only member of the Crocodile Gang whose life was spared from the gallows because he was under age.

Ndangana joined a group of cadres who were going to China for training while Mazwani opted for civilian life. On return from China, Ndangana was deployed at Intumbi Reefs Camp in Tanzania as an instructor. He rose through the Zanla ranks to become chief of operations and was deputy minister of defence at Independence in 1980. Ndangana died in a horrific car accident on June 27, 1989, a story which will be revisited in succeeding editions of this series.

Throughout his time as Zanla commander in the struggle and post-Independence, those who worked with him or encountered him, became aware that the Crocodile Gang was solely led by him and comprised five members, nothing more and nothing less. While there may have been other sabotage operations in Rhodesia, they were not Crocodile Gang operations, as the Crocodile Gang only conducted three attacks against white Rhodesians and operated only in Manicaland.

This edition of the series is aimed at documenting the exploits of the original and only Crocodile Gang, whose operations are well-documented and verified by witnesses who participated and or encountered the members pre and post-independence. The next edition will interrogate the narrative claiming that Mnangagwa was the founder and leader of the Crocodile Gang, contrary to the well-known and documented narrative this edition has chronicled.

This article was compiled credit to a number of sources, such as personal interviews with Ndangana, before and after Independence, journal article by Baxter Tavuyanago, titled The “Crocodile Gang” Operation: A Critical Reflection on the Genesis of the Second Chimurenga in Zimbabwe, Rhodesian court records and archived documents.

Chando is a lawyer, political analyst and commentator on International Law and Politics. — jonathanchando@gmail.com

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